Consequences of stress on children’s development


I have chosen this topic as I have a very close friend and I will call him Sizwe who experienced isolation , abandonment as well as poverty as a little boy from the age of nine until he was finally adopted by an older friend of mine when he was thirteen years of age. Sizwe is now twenty-seven years old.

Sizwe’s story is sad and unthinkable, just thinking about it makes my heart ache and I become teary-eyed. He is from my home country South Africa. His sad story began at the age of nine when one night he saw his mother packing her bags and he looked at his mother and said to her “Mom where are you going?” His mom replied ” I am just going out for the night to a friends house.” He had replied “Okay!” and that night he stayed at home with his grandmother. He woke up the next morning and his mother was not back yet and she never did return and to this day he does not know where his mother is. My friend Sizwe had a father but he never met his father and did not even know his father’s name. From that day onwards he only had his grandmother and she could not take care of him. A few months later after saving just a little bit of money he managed to pay for a bus to take him from his city to my city which is about a two hour drive.

Once he arrived in my city he had no place to stay and he lived on the street for a little while until he saw a scrap yard that was looking for someone to work for them. Sizwe was still only nine years of age, however they decided to employ him for weekends and after hours. Sizwe enrolled himself in a government school where the cost of schooling was very low. He went to school during the week and after school and weekends he would work in the scrap yard. Sizwe would use his earnings to pay for his school fees and to feed himself and a few months later he made a little home for himself in the scrapyard using the scrap metal that was there. Sizwe lived like this for a few years.

When he was about twelve years old, he befriended a friend of mine, I will call him Trevor and Sizwe would often go to Trevor’s house to play after school. Sizwe would often ask Trevor’s mother if he could quickly wash his school clothes and dry them at her home and in the morning he would come back to iron his school uniform and get dressed. Trevor’s mother said ‘sure’ and this carried on for a few months until she began to suspect that not all was okay in Sizwe’s life. She later found out that when Sizwe left her home at night after playing with her son, he would go and sleep under a church building because his home- the scrapyard was too far and dangerous to travel to at night. Trevor’s mother immediately took Sizwe in and cared for him for many months until an older friend of mine who already adopted two boys decided to have him as her own son. From then on, his life became better but the impact that the abandonment, isolation and poverty had on his biosocial and psychosocial development was and is still terrible.

Sizwe had no option but to cope and survive and so he did what he had to do in order to survive. The stress of isolation, abandonment and poverty in his formative years has made him:

  • Not trust women.
  • Not trust people in general.
  • Continue to still have a survivors mentality.
  • Depressed during stressful times, where he isolates himself from the world.
  • Closed and shares very little and conservative at times.

Now although he has so much emotional turmoil, he has grown up to be a gentleman, who expresses himself through music and dance. When he creates music and gets on the dance floor he is a different person. Sizwe would say God, music and dance has kept him alive and encouraged him to move forward.


South Africa

Since my home country is South Africa and I have not lived or taught there for about three years, I thought it would be important for me to be up to date and read about the stressors that impact child development in my home country to see if things have improved, remained the same or become worse.

Upon reading and finding out what stressors can have an impact on child development in South Africa, I found that the biggest stressor is poverty (Gould & Ward, 2015). Here are some facts to show how poverty is the number one stressor in South Africa:

  • More than 50% of children in South Africa grow up in homes where caregivers or parents are without the support of the other parent. As a result this puts a financial burden on the one parent or caregiver to provide adequate nutrition, health care and education (Gould & Ward, 2015).
  • The parent or caregivers who are struggling with poverty are more likely to suffer from depression and depressed parents are likely to use harsh punishment and are inconsistent when responding to their children’s behavior (Gould & Ward, 2015).
  • Mothers who are the caregivers, are less likely to be affectionate towards their children and often resort to corporal punishment and leave their children unsupervised and left to fend for themselves most times (Gould & Ward, 2015).
  • Due to the lack of warmth, affection and supervision from single parents or parents who are poverty stricken the children become at risk to abuse drugs and alcohol and engage in risky sex and crime (Gould & Ward, 2015).

As one can see the children in South Africa are at risk if 50% are single parent homes and I know for a fact unemployment is rife in South Africa and this does not only affect single parent homes but all families.

In order to help prevent the above violence, maltreatment and negative affects on children’s psychosocial, biosocial and cognitive development, parenting programmes have been put in place to try and support these families who suffer from the consequences of being impoverished. These programmes have shown to be effective for improving parenting, reducing child maltreatment and improving children’s cognitive and behaviour development (Gould & Ward, 2015).

These programmes were developed by NDP, National Development Plan to reduce poverty and inequality in South Africa (Gould & Ward, 2015). Their goals are to:

  • Increase employment by increasing the quality of education in South Africa.
  • Increase per capita income.
  • Ensure all people live safely.

The parenting programmes goals (Gould & Ward, 2015) are to:

  • Help parents and children develop healthy relationships.
  • Help and teach parents how stimulate their children cognitively.
  • Help and teach parents to become involved in their child’s schooling.
  • Teach parents the importance of providing a safe home for their children to become successful.


Gould. C, Ward, C.L. (2015, April). Positive parenting in South Africa: Why supporting families is key to development and violence prevention. Institute for Security Studies. Retrieved from













5 thoughts on “Consequences of stress on children’s development

  1. Your story about your friend was extremely sad, I am so glad he was able to find a release through music and dance for his stress. I know emotionally he will be scared, but it was a good thing that he did become Trevor’s friend. It is sad to see all of those things are still happening in Africa even after three years, but it is a good thing that there are programs for the people to go to.


  2. Music is an incredible form of therapy and a great way to help someone heal. I’m glad your friend was able to find a “forever home” even though he still has several side effects from his early traumas. I’m curious as to what you meant when you said he still has a survivor’s mentality.
    The parenting programs you describe seem to be a great way to solve some of the stressors facing children in South Africa. I wonder about the home visiting program that is described by Gould and Ward, and whether or not parents are willing to let the home visitors in or not. At my school here in the US, we have a partnership with Head Start, a federally funded program which does home visits and offers lots of opportunities and support for parents with young children who also have financial needs. However, not all families consent to be a part of Head Start because they do not want “outsiders” in their homes or feel too proud to accept any help.


  3. Hiya

    The years I have taught in South Africa I did no home visits. It is not something that is done in South Africa, my teacher friends from other school’s have never done home visits either.With regards to my friend, he continues to have a survivor’s mentality because even though he has the support around him to get help, he more than often chooses not to take that help and it is not because of pride, he just chooses the hard routes because that is what he knows and is familiar with… it is weird but he becomes very complicated, withdrawn at times and sometimes his family and friends do not hear from him for weeks then all of sudden he comes out of his world and everything is back to normal.


  4. Your story about your friend was heart touching it is hard to know how a child feel when the person you love the most . Your mother leaves and never return I know there were so many thoughts that went on in his mind, thank God he was a strong young man. To this day I do not understand why the children in South Africa are still in poverty when the media is always asking for money.


  5. Your story about your friend was heart touching because no one know what he was going through. It is the hardest thing for the person you love the most your mother to just leave you. Thank God he was a strong young man who did not let the streets take over him. God will put people in your lives for a reason. I was still wondering why there is so much poverty in South Africa when the media is always asking for money.


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